CEOs Drive Innovation

CEOs Drive Innovation October 24, 2018

To foster innovation, association CEOs need to cultivate long-term commitment in both volunteer leaders and staff. The ASAE Foundation’s report on innovation in associations identifies tactics that CEOs can use to engage the right people.

What does it take to be innovative? Ideas, plans, and resources are all key. But association CEOs also need to get the right people on board, including volunteer leaders and staff. According to the ASAE Foundation report Associations Innovate: The Journey from Intent to Action, the CEO often must serve as the link between the board’s strategic thinking and the staff’s implementation activities. The report suggests tactics leaders can adopt to advance innovation efforts.

Engage the Board

At the board level, it’s all about channeling an innovation mindset. Research participants frequently said their boards could be more open to new ideas. CEOs can facilitate the introduction of new ideas to the board by including emerging professionals in volunteer leadership positions (see sidebar). Executives can also guide their board to look at innovation through a wider lens, challenging board members to come up with new approaches to problems and opportunities. Introducing foresight practices into strategic planning processes may help boards shift toward a bigger-picture mindset.

Successes should be celebrated, and failures should be viewed as learning opportunities.

Boards generally support funding for innovation, but they are less involved in planning and evaluating innovation projects. Fifty-four percent of respondents said their boards engage in establishing the innovation agenda, compared with 67 percent who said their boards approve funding. Boards are even less likely to be involved with evaluating the success of the innovation portfolio (34 percent) and innovation projects (25 percent). CEOs could foster greater investment in innovation by encouraging board involvement in planning and evaluation of these activities.

Empower Staff

Board support is critical, but staff also need to feel empowered to take risks. Reward systems—whether through bonuses, peer recognition, or other methods—foster a culture of innovation among staff and demonstrate organizational commitment to trying new approaches. Thirty-six percent of respondents have an innovation-related staff rewards system in place, indicating an area of opportunity for many associations.

Cross-collaboration helps staff develop different perspectives and consider new approaches—both important to innovative organizational culture. Association executives can take the lead in promoting cross-collaboration between departments, establishing frameworks or formalizing support for employees who pursue these types of projects. Successes should be celebrated, and failures should be viewed as learning opportunities.

Fostering innovation requires engaging volunteer leaders and staff from start to finish—through conceptualization, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Additional research findings, tactics, and recommendations can be found in the Associations Innovate report.